Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Top of the World

Vintage Article from April 1940
(Author's name not given)

During those long months when "Gone with the Wind" was in production, the film colony never got to know Vivien Leigh. She led the life of a recluse. Then she conquered the screen as Scarlett O'Hara; and became free to make a second conquest of Hollywood.

I watched Vivien enter the Trocadero with a dinner party this week- and heard the gasp go round the room. For her beauty is lit by a brilliant vitality that puts all your blonde beauties in the shade.

Vivien trailing her scarlet chiffons, with sprigs of white lilac tucked into that black upswept hair, and her slanting green eyes glittering against her magnolia-white skin puts a new emphasis upon glamour.

Today she radiates success- in her shining eyes and glowing smile. Small wonder that she bewitches the hardest people in the world. For she is the heroine of romance-- romance in her film triumph: romance in her colorful private life.

Now that "Gone with the Wind" is released, the story of Vivien's initial discouragement can be told. She created Scarlett O'Hara in an atmosphere of exacting work, work and then more work. Energetic and impatient, she was at the studio at 7 o'clock every day and drove herself home to her modest apartment every evening. Producer David O. Selznick and director Victor Fleming were marvellous to her, she says, but she was thoroughly homesick.

The demands of her work may have a good deal to do with this- she had no chance to visit old friends or make new ones: no chance to enjoy the many pastimes to be found in or near the film town.

Occasionally she dined with Ronald Colman and his wife (Benita Hume). Her sole recreation was swimming at the George Cukor home on Sunday afternoons; she was most upset when Cukor, who had directed the opening scenes of "Gone with the Wind," was replaced by Fleming. She takes every opportunity of stressing the debt that Scarlett owes to Mr. Cukor.

On the set she lunched in her dressing-room - rarely having a guest. And constantly there was the pressure of outside opinion- the doubts and criticisms of the people who had waited three years already to see "Gone with the Wind"-and who wondered if she could make it.

It was a tremendous responsibility- carrying- largely on her shoulders the burden of success- or failure. Money problems are not supposed to worry stars. But Vivien, shrewd, intelligent, knew that a fortune- a fortune of a million pounds sterling- was sunk into the picture.

Her private life was complicated by her love for Laurence Olivier -the English star whom she had followed to Hollywood to see. If Vivien had never made that romantic visit- she would not have become Scarlett O'Hara. But she left her home, and her small daughter, Suzanne, in London. Vivien's husband, Leigh Holman from whom she was separated, was still her husband. Olivier's wife, Jill Esmond, was in London too.

Then both tremendous problems were resolved. "Gone with the Wind," as I have already told you, is the biggest success in screen history. And two divorce suits begun in London have left the way open for marriage between Vivien and Laurence Olivier.

Now Vivien is embarked upon her MGM drama, "Waterloo Bridge." Laurence is in the same studio, making "Pride and Prejudice” with Greer Garson.

Success as Scarlett; happiness as Vivien Leigh: the English star is now on top of the world.


Friday, July 11, 2014

A Tribute to Larry: May 22, 1907 - July 11, 1989

Today is the 25th anniversary of the passing of Sir Laurence Olivier. Many have called him the world's greatest actor. Indeed, he mesmerized theatregoers and movie audiences alike, for six decades with his stellar performances.

Whether on stage or in a movie, from breaking the rules on Romeo and Juliet, from capturing every woman's imagination as Heathcliff, to his Academy Award winning Hamlet, to alternating nights between Shaw and Shakespeare, Caesar and Antony, Laurence Olivier gave himself fully to each role and inhabited those characters he played. 

Peggy Ashcroft and Laurence Olivier in Romeo and Juliet

"Larry's Romeo was denigrated by every critic but one- St John Ervine- was proof of their blindness to the challenging and original road he was taking, and was to make his own, in the classics. Happy Days indeed!" --Peggy Ashcroft

Wuthering Heights

"But an actor was there, an actor one had never seen on the screen before. The embers took fire; light blazed; with delighted astonishment one saw a new Olivier. The role of Heathcliff might have been made for him." --Dilys Powell

Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennett and Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

"Good looks are not sufficient, or even great talent. Laurence Olivier has both. Tall, dark, and handsome, he is a splendid actor. But, in addition, that certain magic spark in a player's personality must have the power to bring out all the sweet yearnings of an adolescent and to make older women behave in a very silly fashion." --John Davies

While in costume for Hamlet, Olivier receives his Oscar for Henry V from fellow actor Ray Milland

"He was a brilliant runner of theatres, a brilliant man of the theatre, a brilliant impresario, a very great film director, and remains the greatest actor of his generation." --Peter Hall

Olivier with his second wife, Vivien Leigh; photo by Angus McBean

"I believe Laurence Olivier to be the greatest actor of our time."

"To have seen her [Vivien] and Larry together in their prime was to have glimpsed a kind of divinity." --Noel Coward (1974, 1967)

Olivier and Vivien Leigh as the title characters in
 Antony and Cleopatra

"There are at least three qualities which explain the Olivier phenomenon. The first, of course, is sheer talent. The next quality is sheer animal magnetism. Third, I suppose, is ambition. No question but that Larry has had colossal ambition." --Anthony Quayle

As Archie Rice in The Entertainer

"No man has graced his profession better than Larry Olivier has graced ours. He represents the ultimate in acting. He's the actor's most admired actor." -- Cary Grant 

"In an interview with the Daily Telegraph Magazine, Joan Plowright recalled one night when Ingmar Bergman and Olivier 'talked about both having ministers for fathers and what effect that had on them. A certain amount of guilt complex. And maybe this compulsive need to work. An ingrained need to work. An ingrained sense of service.'" --from Olivier by Logan Gourlay

Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman

"It is difficult for me to believe that he is gone- what a rich legacy he leaves behind- not only of his brilliant talents and extraordinary range of achievement, but the memory of his own vital, courageous personality, his determination and power as performer, manager, director and defier of lightning, the originality of his approach to every new and challenging venture, his physical bravery, not only on the stage but in the valiant way in which he faced his few failures and defeats, and above all his refusal to give up when he became so ill." --John Gielgud

Larry was married three times during his lifetime, all actresses: Jill Esmond (1930 to 1940), Vivien Leigh (1940 to 1960) and Joan Plowright (1961 to 1989 (his death)). He fathered four children, sadly none with Vivien, though she did suffer two miscarriages during their marriage. Olivier won multiple awards for his acting and directing, including two special Oscars.

In Hollywood, he has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In London, there is a life sized statue of Olivier outside the Royal National Theatre and a commemorative stone for him at Westminster Abbey. Additionally, the Laurence Olivier Awards for acting are given out annually in his name.

Monday, July 7, 2014

In Memoriam 1913 - 1967

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Vivien Leigh, who passed away at the young age of 53, from tuberculosis. She worked hard her entire life to be successful at her craft. For myself, and many others, she is the world's greatest stage and screen actress.

From the child who announced she would not sing, but recite; to the starlet who captured the world's imagination as Scarlett; to the award-winning actress who gave herself completely to each of her roles; today, we mourn the world's loss and celebrate the life Vivien lived.

Vivian Mary Hartley and her mother Gertrude Hartley
Vivien was born in India, in November 1913, to British parents. At the age of 6, she was sent to a convent school in England and only saw her parents sporadically over the next few years. It was here that Vivien made the decision to one day become a great actress.

Vivien on her wedding day to Leigh Holman
In 1932, Vivien married Leigh Holman, a barrister, at the age of 19. The following year, she gave birth to her only child, a daughter she named Suzanne. Shortly after her daughter's birth, Vivien returned to the acting world. Her breakout role came from the play, The Mask of Virtue, as the courtesan Henriette, in 1935. Her uncommon beauty combined with her mesmerizing performance turned the critics on their ears and they dubbed her the Fame In A Night girl. Film companies took note and the offers poured in for her choosing. Vivien accepted an offer from Alexander Korda's company, London Film Productions, for 50,000 GBP for five years.

The Mask of Virtue
Shortly after this, she began a torrid affair with a married actor named Laurence Olivier. This affair culminated with the two of them leaving their respective spouses in 1937, so they could move in together and live as a couple. In August 1940, after obtaining divorces, and after they each had made cinematic history (Larry as Heathcliff and Vivien as Scarlett), the two married quietly in California.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier
World War II broke out and the Oliviers, being very patriotic, returned home to England. Vivien said, I know London is not the safest place in the world right now, but it is still my home and that's where I want to be. 

Part of Vivien's war service included going on a tour with ENSA, which is the British version of the USO. In 1943, Vivien, along with several other performers, went to North Africa to visit the troops. They toured several locations and even performed for the King of England. Among her performances, she did a special recitation mocking her character Scarlett O'Hara called The Terror of Tara.

The Doctor's Dilemma
In addition to her film roles, Vivien often portrayed characters on the stage, tackling numerous plays, including a few by Shaw and Shakespeare. She said she preferred being on the stage to making movies, a sentiment shared by Olivier. When she and Olivier were asked if they had ever thought of quitting the stage, the couple replied, Often, but it's an idle dream.

Duel of Angels
Larry and Vivien remained married until 1960. After her divorce, Vivien continued to act and made her final two movies, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and Ship of Fools. She also went on a world tour with her companion, Jack Merivale. Marriage rumours circulated around the two, but those rumours were in vain.

Jack Merivale and Vivien, 1961
Late Friday night, on July 7, 1967, Vivien was found in her bedroom by her partner, Jack Merivale. He recalled, And I... looked in the bedroom and there she was, asleep, with Poo Jones curled up beside her. And I went into the kitchen to make myself some soup out of a tin. I had that and I went back into the bedroom, and she was lying on the floor. So I tried to wake her, with no result, and then she wasn't breathing so I tried mouth to mouth resuscitation, what I knew of it, and no result whatsoever. Then I was pretty sure she was dead." Vivien had passed away, leaving this world far too soon, at the age of 53.

Vivien Leigh, 1965
Saturday night, July 8th, London's theater district went dark for an hour in tribute to this great lady.

At her memorial service, her good friend Emlyn Williams read the following lines from John Donne:

She, to whom all this world was but a stage.
Where all sat hark'ning how her youthful age
Should be employ'd, because in all she did
Some Figure of the Golden times was hid.
Who could not lack, whate'er this world could give,
Because she was the form, that made it live.

Rest in Peace, Vivien.